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James is about twenty nine years old and just came over into the cloister this morning as an Observer. An "Observer" is someone who lives in the enclosure with the monks for six weeks while discerning a monastic vocation. He has a pleasant and confident smile. I think he also likes his new monk's hood which, I noticed, he had up over his head as he strode into church for morning prayer. Monks don't ordinarily wear their hoods up during the liturgy, and when he looked around and noticed this, he quickly drew back his hood. He will have many moments like this.
The "Stone House" where I just spent a week in complete solitude looks over several miles of "bluffs" that descend to the Mississippi River. It is an expansive view – a little breathtaking especially in the morning as the sun is coming up. A little glass porch that over looks the river is where I set up my little prayer chapel and spend about an hour each morning praying Matins, the first prayer service for the day in the Catholic "Christian Book of Prayer".
After mass, Brother Paul Andrew will drive me to the Stone House, situated on the grounds of the Trappistine sisters monastery, thirty minutes from New Melleray, where I will spend a week in complete solitude. During that time, our soldiers in Afganistan will conduct raids on Taliban strongholds, some will die; some will prevail by heroic acts of courage. Pundits will feverishly debate the ramifications of Sarah Palin deciding to run for president.
Fr. Bernard is nearly ninety years old. He has seen a lot of men enter and leave the monastery. Brother Lawrence was only an Observer; someone who lives in the cloister for six weeks to get a first taste of monastic life.
Just before I went to bed on Saturday night, Fr. Stephen spoke of fears in Washington that there might be an anniversary attack of some kind on Sunday, the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Sunday is an especially quiet day in a monastery. We don't work. We gather to hear a spiritual conference by Dom Brendan at 7:00 in the morning. There is a long quiet interval that precedes high mass.
I was probably in my mid forties before I really took a long hard look at that old photo of mom as an infant. Captured at just a few months old, back in 1936, her eyes barely open to the light of this world, I was momentarily disconcerted by how tiny and vulnerable the little creature looked – my mother. Every year, on September 8, when the church celebrates the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I think again of that photo, and of the complex feelings it awakens in me.
Father Simeon is in his mid eighties – not someone you would expect to see climbing a concrete staircase two steps at a time. Granted, his progress was slow and deliberate: hand on the knee of his leading leg, a big push, the other leg brought up, hand on the other knee, and another big push. He looked a little like a mountain climber. Or like Jesus Christ. Jesus worked at our redemption. It was a struggle because we gave him a good fight and no "thank-you's" either.
A gentle buffeting of rain heard on the roof throughout the day today; the sky pressing down, confining the monks within the monastery walls all day long. And so, a cessation of work and busyness, an enchanting quiet and stillness in the rooms and corridors. Most of the monks are out of sight, reading, praying, tinkering in one of the shops. Only a subdued light entering in the windows. My heart is curiously brimming with joy whose source is somewhere below consciousness.